Since The Avengers debuted almost two months ago Marvelites and fans have blazed the message that this film is the greatest comic book movie of all time across the internet. To comic book movie aficionados and those who have followed the genre such a declaration is blasphemous and so risible that it is a wonder how anyone could say it with a straight face because the movies does not offer us the best story in the genre or characters that closely represent those found in the comics. For example in the movie Tony Stark is not the same alcoholic in the comics that the U.S government has to subpoena to obtain records of him drinking as Iron Man, Thor has sworn to protect the Earth despite the fact that he spent less time on the planet than a new teenage student driver on the road, the lone fugitive Bruce Banner who is so scarred by his transformations into the Hulk that he desperately takes large samples of his blood in search for a cure is gone. So looking upon story and character portrayal let’s take examine some of the greatest filmmakers and movies in the history of the comic book genre.
Richard Donner Superman 12: The long passage of time has not diminished the greatness of Donner’s work on the Superman franchise but has instead shown the just how truly timeless his Superman adaptions are. His cinematic portrayal of the journey that the last son of Krypton takes to become the Earth’s greatest hero remains one of the best stories in the genre in fact it has forever altered the backstory of the character both on screen and in the comics. Donner’s depiction of Superman is so great that it has become the standard by which other depictions of the character are judged and has become synonymous in the minds of fans to the comic book character. Understand reader Richard Donner took an unknown actor in Christopher Reeves and help transform into the definitive Man of Steel. The excellence displayed in his work on Superman may never be equaled even by a filmmaker of Zack Snyder’s caliber.
Tim Burton Batman Batman Returns: From movies like Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas to Dark Shadows and the upcoming Frankenweenie Tim Burton is Hollywood’s undisputed master of dark and strange figures. While his Batman films stories are simple and cannot be compared to other CBM’s plots his understanding of the character and his risky artistic vision is legendary. Burton’s Batman is the best adaption of the character Bob Kane created and Bill Finger penned also he returned the Joker back to the clownish psychotic serial killer that his creator’s envisioned. Michael Keaton’s intimidating hardedge, theatrical Batman is a close representation of the characters golden age depiction in fact his Bruce Wayne is the perfect embodiment of Bill Finger’s original vision of the character. His Gotham is a visually stunning master piece of pure artistic talent and imagination it brings to life the city in a way that would make legendary Batman artists such as Neal Adams and Jerry Robinson proud.
Christopher Nolan The Dark Knight Trilogy: For all of the criticism of Nolan’s work on Batman he is unquestionably the greatest visionary the genre has produced in the almost 35 years since Richard Donner’s Superman. He took the campy crime fighting caped crusader and transformed him into a haunted, broken and emotional scarred man as well as turned the well-known story of Batman into an action crime thriller. Batman’s most highly regarded graphic novels Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween, The Killing Joke, and Knightfall he would loosely adapt and amalgamate their storylines into a complex engaging story that could allow the audience to journey into soul and psyche of the character. Gotham’s dark knight as written by Frank Miller and Jeph Loeb form the basis and inspiration for Nolan’s Batman but he would take their work on the character a step further by making him more human and realistic. It was the story that he co-wrote and adapted that allowed Heath Ledger to give the most inspired performance in a comic book movie. Ardent detractors of Nolan have criticized the academy award The Dark Knight received but even they must acknowledge that it is the first and only golden globe, academy award win in acting a film based on a superhero has ever received. When history closes on Christopher Nolan’s Batman series it will be looked back on as one of the best works ever adapted from a graphic novel.
Sam Raimi’s Spider-man Trilogy: Forty years after Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created the web slinging wall crawler he would swing into theaters thrilling audiences the world over and making history his franchise first three films would gross $2.49 billion at the global box office. Raimi’s Spiderman films are colorful, campy, light and visually bold their success paved the way for future comic book adaptions that would delve deep into the origins of their characters. Despite the romantic melodrama at the heart of his films the story of Peter Parker is fairly rich and encapsulates timeless themes of self-sacrifice and responsibility. His adaption of Peter Parker is centered on the adage “with great power comes great responsibility” and as the story progresses audiences experience the great sacrifices Peter makes to be Spiderman and the toll it takes on his personal life. He would take Stan Lee’s original design for that character which is an ordinary guy gets bit by a radioactive spider and build upon that vision by imbuing the character with common relatable experiences. For example similar to the comics Peter is the geek who gets the beautiful girl but loses her because of his Spiderman alter ego but Raimi would accentuate Parker’s tardiness, forgetfulness and charm to make him relatable.
Bryan Singer X-Men X 2: Singer’s adaptions of the über popular X Men was among the first comic book movies to utilize over the top CGI heavy action sequences also it became a catalyst for big budget superhero adaptions that would explore adult themes. The plots of the films are simple, strangely fascinating but at times incoherent like X-Men United storyline because the screen writers and director pulled most of the plot from the comics without any regard for the difference between graphic novels and cinema. The problem of the films reliance on the comics is what makes them great since the X-Men has abundance of resonate characters. Wolverine’s experience is similar to that of many mutants who have been used as lab rats for human experimentation. Bobby Drake was disowned by his parents for being a mutant and similar to the students at Xavier’s school for the gifted he has no one to turn to for help. His movies are great also for their portrayal of women which is the by far the best in the genre. There is no equal to the characterization of Storm and Jean they are intelligent, strong, compassionate women who are as capable in many cases more than their male counterparts and invaluable characters that helps drive the plot of the film.
Honorable mention: Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk is grossly underappreciated, horrible overshadow by other Marvel franchises like Iron Man, Thor and it will never receive the respect that it justly deserves. The film is rightly criticized for its underdeveloped plot but for comic book fans there are only a few actors who have provided a more faithful and inspired performance of a comic book character than Edward Norton. His Bruce Banner is Stan Lee’s original design for the character come to life which is a mild mannered scientist that is tragically transformed into a hulking monster and then becomes obsessed with finding a cure but Norton adds a level of urgency and intensity to that role. As Banner he is constantly looking over his shoulder because he has been on the run from the U.S army for five years and his transformations into the Hulk has driven him into self-imposed exile.